Worried About All the World's Water Problems? Check Out This Uplifting Documentary.

Brave Blue World documentary highlights people in multiple places devising positive, innovative solutions to critical water problems.

Worried About All the World's Water Problems? Check Out This Uplifting Documentary.

Paul O’Callaghan, right, Brave Blue World executive producer, and Tom Kunetz, Water Environment Federation past president, share a laugh during the filming of Brave Blue World.

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It’s easy to get depressed about the world’s water environment. There’s water scarcity, drought, overfished oceans with declining coral and vast masses of plastic waste, inadequate sanitation in many countries, climate change and more.

A new documentary, of which the Water Environment Federation is a major sponsor, encourages an optimistic view. Brave Blue World shows how humanity is adopting new technologies and innovations to rethink how water is managed.

The story follows Paul O’Callaghan, water industry expert, CEO of BlueTech Research, and executive producer of the documentary, as he visits communities around the world that are taking novel approaches to water problems. The documentary is backed by star power: It’s narrated by actor Liam Neeson and includes appearances by actor Matt Damon and rapper/actor Jaden Smith.

The film, which premiered last December at the Paramount Theatre in Hollywood, aims to challenge common assumptions about water. Besides WEF and BlueTech, the production partners are DuPont Water Solutions, SUEZ Water Technologies & Solutions, L’Oréal, Xylem, Aqualia, and Water Alliance.

Created by the Brave Blue World Foundation, the program is being offered for screenings to selected audiences revolving around the water sector. Jackie Jarrell, WEF president and operations chief at Charlotte Water in North Carolina, talked about the documentary in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

What is the genesis of this documentary?

Jarrell: Paul O’Callaghan approached the federation in February 2018 with the concept and asked about our interest in being a production partner. We decided to help fund the project and became the key sponsor. We were familiar with BlueTech and had worked with Paul on other projects in areas of innovation. We felt the film was a valuable way to send a positive message to the public about the advances taking place in the water sector.

Why do you think this documentary resonates with viewers?

Jarrell: People today are very conscientious about what they can do to protect the environment. They’re concerned about climate change and about many things that are happening in the world. There can be a tone of doom and gloom when people talk about those issues. This documentary tells a really positive and uplifting story.

How is that positive outlook portrayed in the film?

Jarrell: While there are challenges, the documentary turns them into opportunities. It tells about people all over the world and the steps they are taking to solve problems around water. It includes achievements many of us know about, like the work being done at the Chicago Metro Water Reclamation District. But it also takes viewers to developing countries where there are significant challenges with water shortages and poor sanitation. It shows people using innovative approaches or technologies to make a difference for their communities.

How broad is the scope of this presentation?

Jarrell: It covers everything from drinking-water quality to shortages of water and from sanitation to plastics in the ocean. For just about anything you can think of, somebody somewhere is tackling the problem. That gives you hope.

How is the documentary being distributed?

Jarrell: The producers want to take the program to film festivals and online streaming services. For now, WEF is allowing access for our volunteer leadership and our Member Association leaders. We provide viewings so they can serve as ambassadors, promoting the film and sending positive messages to people who work in the water sector. Screenings will also be available for academics, nonprofit organizations and government officials to engage people who may not be involved in the water workforce on a daily basis. We’re also trying to get the film into industry-related specialty conferences, not just in the U.S., but worldwide.

What might these screening events look like?

Jarrell: One approach we encourage is to share the film and then have a panel discussion afterward where people can discuss what they saw in the film and what it meant for them. All WEF Member Associations have received toolkits with information on how to provide viewings for different types of audiences.

What impact do you see this film having on water and wastewater operators?

Jarrell: It shows them all the innovation and the advanced technology they have to look forward to as operators’ skill sets change and as the industry grows. It puts them right there on the ground floor, learning about these things, thinking about the future and how exciting their careers can continue to be.

What did you see in the documentary that you found especially inspiring?

Jarrell: One thing that struck me was the people from areas of the world who really have struggles with water shortages and sanitation. The people who came up with the solutions were so driven — they really cared. I saw young people bringing new ideas to fruition. It’s people thinking outside the box and saying, “What can I do to make this better?” And then finding solutions. I think it shows that we always have to give those ideas a chance.

Can you cite a specific example of this kind of caring and dedication?

Jarrell: One man in Kenya founded a company called Sanivation serving a small community. They were taking wastewater, mixing the solids with farm residue and turning it into an alternative charcoal product superior to traditional charcoal. He was going around with a little vehicle collecting the material, and then they were separating and dewatering it. It was a very manual, laborious effort. He was so dedicated to making his community healthier that he found a way to do this. 

What’s the relevance to the developed world where we have access to good water service and sanitation?

Jarrell: As the documentary shows, there are places even in the U.S. that don’t have good sanitation. It’s important in those places to find solutions that might be different from the ones we’re accustomed to. We need to provide those services to the people, especially in remote areas where it can be very difficult.

Did any commentary by the celebrity participants leave an impression with you?

Jarrell: Matt Damon makes a great point in the film when he says how lucky we are to be the ones who get to solve these problems. It’s a great way to think about it: We get to be the pioneers. We get to be the ones to figure out what we need to do for the future.

How well does the presentation align with WEF’s emphasis on resource recovery?

Jarrell: The film really does promote resource recovery. When there is a water shortage, what can we do with the water we have? How can we better use that water? It helps educate the public about why resource recovery makes sense. Even for those of us who live where we turn on the tap and water comes out, it creates an understanding of what it takes to get there. It helps explain that just because we have water now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to have it forever.

How does this program help elevate the stature of operators and others in the water professions?

Jarrell: Water professionals have always been and stayed in the background. We haven’t done very well promoting ourselves and the importance of what we do. I often say that operators are the heroes who protect the environment. This movie, and other things we do to share our story with the public in a positive way, are critical if we are to advance resource recovery and advance the water sector as a whole.

To find out how to host a screening of the Brave Blue World documentary, visit www.braveblue.world.  


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